December 19, 2012
EVERYONE needs a break from care, especially at Christmas, even Robyn Williams of Radio National’s Science Show, who recently set aside his concern for tenth-storey dwellers being swept away by global warming’s rising seas to make merry on the airwaves. His interview subject, one of them, was a certain Dr Melvin Schmendrick, purportedly a fellow of Oxford’s Balliol College and an authority on Doctor Who’s student days beneath the dreaming spires.
Such levity! And of course, because Science Show devotees are a supremely savvy bunch, there was no need to explain that schmendrick is Yiddish for fool or, sometimes, an incompetent wizard. Why bother with a jocular disclaimer when your audience is so smart it accepts without question that Himalayan glaciers are melting, Greenland will be gone by Tuesday, and that all those grants and handouts do not colour settled scientists’ perceptions and presentations in the least?
In any case, while mining this motherlode of mirth, Williams’ instincts got the better of him and the subject turned to the true nature of Tony Abbott, as it often does at the ABC. It seems the Opposition Leader is no mere biff-erous wall-puncher, misogynist swine or, to quote Wayne Swan, a common thug. No, they are the better attributes of a creature who is actually a Dalek.
Robyn Williams: Do you think it's important that a prime minister from Australia should have gone to Oxford, like Gorton and Bob Hawke?
Melvin Schmendrick: Well, one out of two is not bad in terms of success, I won't tell you which one I think was the success. It doesn't hurt to be out of one's suburb. I note that Mr Abbott and that other chap who he kind of supplanted indirectly, Turnbull, they had some experience, at least they could learn some elocution along the way, some incidental benefit.
Robyn Williams: Well, Tony Abbott was at Queen's College, he went to the same college as Mr Bean the engineer, interestingly enough, and Tony Abbott has been somewhat robotic recently, which indicates...do you think he might have become a Dalek in the process?
Melvin Schmendrick: I think so. This whole exercise with driving a truck from one capital city to another, I think that...
Robyn Williams: Yes, having those hardhats all the time serves not to show the antennae, you mean.
Melvin Schmendrick: Yes, and the orange safety vest. Yes, he doesn't want to get electrocuted by himself.
ABC-style hilarity does not come cheap (ed: about $1 billion a year) and must be rationed accordingly. With the national broadcaster’s humour budget stretched to breaking, there were no barbs left in the quiver for Prime Minister Julia Gillard:
Robyn Williams: Do you think Julia Gillard would have benefited from a real education, going to Oxford, maybe even to the Queen's College where Welsh people are preferred?
Melvin Schmendrick: I think so, and would have helped with her linguistics and with feeling at home in foreign affairs generally I think.
Robyn Williams: And none of that robotic voice.
Melvin Schmendrick: I don't really think of voice as that robotic. Many robots are programmed for mellifluous behaviour.
Sadly, the programme soon returned to Williams’ familiar turf with a few words from Brian Cox, the former Queen guitarist, professor of physics and evangelist for the warmist creed.
That segment, too, was not announced as a joke.
Shlomo Shnotvasser, a renowned Yiddish scholar, is a sometime guest at Professor Bunyip’s billabong
The Quadrant Book of Poetry: 2001 - 2010
edited by Les Murray